Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Kings Mountain National Military Park: Battlefield Trail (Blog Hike #349)

Trail: Battlefield Trail
Hike Location: Kings Mountain National Military Park
Geographic Location: south of Kings MountainNC (35.14154, -81.37729)
Length: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: June 2011
Overview: A hike on paved trail through a pivotal Revolutionary War battlefield.
Park Information: http://www.nps.gov/kimo/index.htm
Hike Route Map: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=96145
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: Near the South Carolina-North Carolina border, take I-85 to North Carolina SR 216 (exit 2).  Exit and go south on North Carolina SR 216.  North Carolina SR 216 quickly reaches the state line and becomes South Carolina SR 216.  Take SR 216 a total of 3 miles from I-85 to the signed Visitor Center on the left.  Park in the large asphalt parking area in front of the Visitor Center.

The hike: 1780 had been a bad year for the American revolutionaries.  In the north, America’s best troops commanded by General Washington had reached a hopeless stalemate with the British.  Realizing that the outcome of the war would be determined in the south, the British attacked and captured CharlestonSCAmerica’s 4th largest city, on May 12, 1780.  The defeat at Charleston was America’s worst of the war, as the entire Continental Army in the South was destroyed.
            The British followed up on their victory at Charleston by attacking inland.  On May 29, 1780, Colonial Banastre Tarleton led the British to a bloody victory at Waxhaws in which he slaughtered 113 Americans who attempted to surrender.  By the fall of 1780, the British began a 3-prong northward offensive led by General Cornwallis, Tarleton, and Major Patrick Ferguson, respectively, intended to finish the Americans once and for all.
            As news of the Waxhaws slaughter spread and further threats from Ferguson arrived, American frontiersmen from Tennessee came pouring into the Carolinas.  These hardy, rough-living, rifle-toting men came with blood in their eye, seeking freedom for their lifestyle and revenge for Waxhaws.  Ferguson called these men “backwater men,” but Americans called them “over-mountain men” because they came from over the mountain in Tennessee.  Truth be told, they made up only about 20% of the Americans who fought at Kings Mountain, but they were enough to tip the balance.
            Realizing the influx of American forces, Ferguson began retreating.  He could have retreated to the British stronghold of Charlotte, but instead he chose to make a stand at Kings Mountain, thinking he could use the high relief geography to his advantage.  Ferguson positioned his troops in a ring around the flat top of the mountain, forcing the Americans to fight their way up.
            On October 7, 1780, the Americans arrived and encircled the base of the mountain.  Ferguson's elevation advantage was nullified by the dense trees which covered the sides of the mountain, giving the Americans places to duck and hide.  Also, the American long rifles were more accurate than British muskets, so American shots hit their marks while British shots ricocheted around the trees.
            The first two American attempts to take the mountain were repelled by British bayonet charges, but by the third attempt British ranks had sufficiently thinned to allow the Americans to reach the top. Ferguson was killed in battle (his grave sits along the trail today), and in a reversal of Waxhaws, the killing continued briefly after the encircled British surrendered.  All told, the British lost one-third of their troops in the South while the Americans had sustained minimal losses.  The tide in the South had turned in the Americans’ favor for good.
            The battlefield sat neglected for years after the battle, but today you too can have the thrill of charging up Kings Mountain.  Unlike the over-mountain men, you will do it without the British firing back at you from above.  Thanks to efforts by the Daughters of the American Revolution, in 1931 Congress established Kings Mountain National Military Park to preserve the site.  A Visitor Center features exhibits and a movie describing the battle, and the 1.5 mile paved Battlefield Trail described here allows you to view the battlefield first hand.
Start of trail, rear of Visitor Center
            From the rear of the Visitor Center, a brown sign with an arrow pointing right says, “Battlefield Trail 1.5 Mile Walk.”  Follow the arrow and turn right to hike the trail counterclockwise.  Where a side trail heads right to the park’s backpack trail, part of which is described elsewhere in this blog, stay left on the Battlefield Trail.  Some brown signs give you a number you can call and get interpretive messages about the trail sent to your phone, and interesting integration of history and technology.
            The trail curves left as it descends gradually into the forest.  The forest here is mature compared to what you see in many of today’s parks, but the trees here are small compared to the 6-foot diameter giants Revolutionary War soldiers would have seen.  Also, the understory today is densely populated with shrubs and young trees, but British and American soldiers reported encountering a sparse understory that they could move and fire through easily.
Colonial Road
            A dirt path marked “Colonial Road,” the road the over-mountain men used to reach this mountain, exits right, but it is blocked by some strategically placed timbers.  The paved trail soon reaches its lowest point as it begins following tiny Spring Stream, which lies to the right of the trail.  A couple of stone monuments near here mark points where various soldiers died.  The Carolina infantry men charged the mountain from this angle.  Looking upward to your left, you can see the steep, intimidating terrain they faced.
            The trail now gains 200 feet over the next 0.7 miles as it makes a steady moderate climb.  Along the way you pass the Hoover Monument, a stone which stands at the site of President Herbert Hoover’s October 7, 1930 visit marking the 150th anniversary of the battle.  The trail climbs the mountain using the same route the over-mountain men from Tennessee took.  As you get closer to the top, the forest thins and more sunlight reaches the grass-covered ground.  I visited this park on a hot, sunny 95-degree afternoon.  I may not have climbed this mountain in the heat of battle, but I did climb it in the heat.
Centennial Monument
            1 mile into the hike, you reach the Centennial Monument and the mountain’s summit.  A group of locals placed this 28-foot stone monument here in 1880; it looks like a granite pillar.  Past the Centennial Monument, the trail descends slightly as it stays on the ridge crest and treads the ground the British held at the start of the battle.  You soon reach the US Monument, an 83-foot stone obelisk placed here by the federal government in 1909.
US Monument
Ferguson's Grave
            The descent back to the Visitor Center now begins in earnest as the trail reenters the forest, turns sharply right, and passes through a steep ravine.  On the rim of the ravine sits an old stone monument marking where Major Ferguson died, and Ferguson’s grave lies in the ravine itself, marked by a headstone and large rock pile.  Once through the ravine, a final 0.2 mile of gradual downhill hiking remains to return you to the Visitor Center and complete the hike.

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